Tag Archives: Mo Hayder

Mo Hayder’s Wolf the final nominee for MWA Best Novel Edgar

wolfLunchbox regulars know that there are a few favorite authors that I buy in hardback, recommend wholeheartedly, and await with anticipation their next novel.  Back in the day it was Dick Francis, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky and John Grisham.  Currently, it’s Ian Rankin, Laura Lippmann, Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, William Kent Krueger and Mo Hayder.   It was a wonderful day when I discovered Mo Hayder’s Gone – not to mention her entire back catalog – and I marveled at her ability to create suspense and surprise.  As an aspiring writer myself, reading Gone was like a master lesson in craft.  It deserved and won the Edgar for Best Novel in 2012.

No surprise to me –  Mo Hayder has penned another masterclass of a thrilling detective story with Wolf.  If anything the plot is even more knotty than Gone, and there’s no cheating.  Reading Wolf the third time through to review it for the MWA Edgar for Best Novel, I was able to note all the clues that I should have been picking up on were right there in front of me.

There are two plot threads. In the first, a wealthy family – the Anchor-Ferrars – are settling into their comfortable vacation home when they’re visited by two policemen, DI Honey and DS Molina.  Fifteen years previously, a teenage couple had been brutally murdered just a short distance away.  The killer disemboweled them both and strung their intestines, shaped into a heart, in the trees above them.  Now it appears that a second, similar murder has taken place, and the family is stricken to learn that their safety is at risk.  And it certainly is, for we soon realize that the policemen are not policemen at all, but have been hired to terrorize the family in order to suppress the publication of Oliver Anchor-Ferrars’ memoirs.  Although he’s now in his mid-60s and recovering from open-heart surgery, Oliver Anchor-Ferrars is a much harder and smarter man than he appears.  Over the four days of their captivity, Oliver deduces the truth and leaves a hidden message for the police detective he anticipates will be responsible for solving the crime.

The second thread is DI Jack Caffery’s lifelong search for the truth about the abduction and presumed sexual assault and murder of his 9-year-old brother, Ewan.  The Caffery family lived just steps away from a known pedophile, and Jack has spent decades trying to discover what happened to his brother and to find his body.  He’s similar, in that respect, to Hayder’s continuing character known as the walking man.  The walking man is a homeless itinerant, but highly intelligent and educated man, whose daughter was abducted.  He searches as he walks, seeking her body, and sometimes shares information with Jack.  And sometimes he doesn’t.

The threads come together through coincidence, or as the walking man would have it, fate.   For the only hope for rescue of the Anchor-Ferrars family rests in the speedy exit of their Border terrier, Bear.  A note reading “Help Us,” and including their address, was attached to Bear’s collar by Mrs. Anchor-Ferrars, who then threw the dog down the fireplace chimney.  Injured and with most of the note missing, Bear is discovered by a little blonde girl – Amy – in the nearby park who turns to none other than the walking man for help.  And the walking man turns to Jack, dangling the potential of information about Ewan from a new source as his incentive to track down Bear’s owners.

And thus does Jack Caffery begin his search, even as Honey and Molina are inflicting mental torture and physical abuse on the family.  It’s a long and complicated process, and Jack prevails in bringing all the perpetrators to justice, although the day is not entirely saved.  (I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers.)

Mo Hayder has written a perfect Rubik’s cube of a puzzle, where all the pieces slot perfectly into place but there’s a lot of looking at things in new ways to make them do so.  At the same time, the characters are simply the most well-drawn and compelling characters – good guys, bad guys, and minor walk-ons alike – that I have seen in … well, forever, really.  The book itself is painful at many points and the resolution of the mystery of Jack’s brother Ewan is surprising, ironic, and completely in keeping with the synchronicity of life’s events.

So, there’s the review – but what about the ranking?  The #1 ranked novel, Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, is an excellent book and I look forward to more from Bill Hodges.  But Mo Hayder’s Wolf is a deeper experience all together – it takes the top spot.   I forecast Wolf as the big winner at the Edgar Awards ceremony this week.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Novel

  1. Wolf by Mo Hayder
  2. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
  3. Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
  4. The Final Silence by Stuart Neville
  5. Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin
  6. This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

The Mystery Writers of America Edgars Banquet is Wednesday, April 29.  That night, the winners of the Best Novel and Best First Novel awards will be announced, among others.  My former colleague Jim Klise is up for an Edgar for his YA novel, The Art of Secrets.  (Good luck, Jim!)  We’ll see if he prevails, and if my calls of Mo Hayder’s Wolf and Tim Bouman’s Dry Bones in the Valley are on the money.

S.J. Bolton is rocking it for me

sjb_polaroids_8bitMy husband discovered a new author at the library in S.J. Bolton, who writes the Detective Lacey Flint series.  His description of the main character was really ringing a bell… and yep, I had Now You See Me, the first book in the series, on my Kindle.  I re-read it.  Thumbs up.  Complicated female character, tense (and bloody) plot featuring a serial killer – in fact, maybe LACEY’s the serial killer.  Plus there’s a dishy fellow cop who may or may not be romantically involved with their mutual female boss, so there’s that little box of fun checked.  Ooh.

Second book in the series is Dead Scared.  This one’s got Lacey undercover at university, where there is an unusually high number of suicides among the prettier coeds.  (Sorry for the spoiler, obviously Lacey was not actually the serial killer, after all.)  Very tense.  Who’s driving them over the edge?  And why is the dishy colleague shouting to Lacey that he loves her, right at the end of the book?

Third book is Lost.  This one is enlivened by an additional character’s POV – 10 year old Barney Roberts.  You’ll get to know Barney, grow fond of Barney, want to smack Barney’s dad upside the head… all while 10-0ld-boys in the area are being abducted and horrifically murdered.  But by whom?  Could it be Barney’s dad?  Barney himself?  Barney’s missing mother?  Very tense ending, but a little “what the heck?”   Lost is scary and worth reading, but not quite as pulled-together as the first two.

And then there is #4 in the series, A Dark and Twisted Tide.  It’s brand new and not yet read by me, but I’ve got high hopes, so I’ll check back in later.  There are also several standalone books (yay!).

As an author, Bolton reminds me of Mo Hayder… and if you know how much I love Mo, you know that is high praise indeed.   To learn more about Mo, click here.  And for more about S.J. Bolton, try her author website!  Well worth clicking around.

It’s the Ace Atkins:Jesse Kellerman smackdown for the Edgars

Ace Atkins

Ace Atkins

Jesse Kellerman

Jesse Kellerman

The guys are up first, with Ace Atkins and Jesse Kellerman as the first two writers under for consideration for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel.  As promised, I am reading, reviewing and ranking the nominees.

The first book in Atkins’ Quinn Colson series was a finalist for the Edgar for Best Novel last year, ultimately losing out to Mo Hayder’s Gone.  In my review of The Ranger, I liked the voice of the novel, the characterization, and found the plot suitably twisty, and it ended up #2 in my list.

lost onesThis year’s finalist, The Lost Ones, has the same positive attributes of The Ranger.   The plot revolves around gun-running, with Quinn’s high school buddy Donny Varner up to his neck, and possibly over his head, in the business.  He comes by it naturally – after a stint in the armed forces, Donny came back to town and opened a shooting range and gunshop (although the guns in question are Army issue and plenty illegal).  A side plot has Quinn and his kickass lady deputy Lillie Virgil investigating a foster-care scheme that’s really a baby-selling ring.  Of course, the two plots intersect.

While the book’s not a compulsive page-turner, it’s pretty engaging and I loved the ending.  Let’s just say true love blossoms in some unexpected places and Donny turns out to be not such a blackguard after all.

Jesse Kellerman also comes by his accolades naturally; although he probably doesn’t love to think that writing mysteries is in his DNA, his parents are Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, each of whom have penned many a best seller.  In fact, Père Kellerman won the Edgar for Best First Novel back in 1986 with When the Bough Breaks.

potboilerJesse Kellerman’s Potboiler is a particularly charming book, especially for writers.  Protagonist Arthur Pfefferkorn was a literary wunderkind… now he has written the first 20 pages of his second novel dozens, if not hundreds of times.  Back in high school, Arthur was editor-in-chief of the high school paper; his best friend Bill was business manager.  In college, Arthur was once again editor-in-chief, Bill served as his ad manager.  That’s why it was particularly tough for Arthur when Bill not only became an internationally acclaimed thriller writer, but married Carlotta, the girl Arthur loved.

Potboiler opens with the news of author William de Vallée’s disappearance and presumed death at sea, followed shortly by the funeral, where Arthur and Carlotta reconnect and Arthur discovers that even after all these years, Bill still worshipped his talent.  In Bill’s office, Arthur discovers an unpublished manuscript… and of course he steals it and publishes it as his own.  This leads to the discovery that the books were actually spy code and responsible for the upheaval in West Zlabia, and Arthur’s transformation into potboiler author-slash-spy.  Madcap adventures follow.

Pluses for Potboiler:  Pfefferkorn is fantastic and the voice of the novel – pretty much Pfefferkorn’s personality – is engaging.  It’s filled with interesting and quirky characters, among them a crazy third world dictator and his put-upon spouse.  And the ending avoided the clichéd happily-ever-after with the lovely, aging Carlotta.  On the downside:  The last half of the book was entertaining, but not compelling.  And the ending was not particularly satisfying, in my opinion. As a result, despite my affection for Potboiler, it’s The Lost Ones at #1.  (So far.)

Best Novel Edgar Rankings:

  1. The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
  2. Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman


Edgars announced

Bed time but must post quickly!  The Edgars are out.

I called it on Best Novel:  Gone by Mo Hayder.  Awesome.  Congrats.

I went back and forth on Best First Novel, and ultimately selected All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen.  The actual winner was my #2 ranked book, Bent Road by Lori Roy.   Congrats to her, as well!  She totally deserves it and I get why the Edgar judges made the call.

I am pleased with this year’s alignment, especially compared to last year, which was awesomely off-track.

Pondering the international flavor of this year’s Edgar nominees

Of the authors who have books nominated for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Novel, only one’s American:  Ace Atkins.  Mo Hayder is British, Keigo Higashino is Japanese, Anne Holt is Norwegian, and Philip Kerr is British.  Hmm.  It got me thinking – is this an unusual year, or is there usually such an international flavor?

Let’s check it out.  I visited the MWA Edgar website, which has an awesome, searchable database.  Seriously, check it out here.  Want to know if your favorite author ever won an Edgar?  Want to know who won every year for the last ten years so you can make a library run?  Whatever you want to know, it’s there.

From 2003 to 2011, there were 48 books and 44 authors nominated for a Best Novel Edgar.  Michael Connelly, Ken Bruen, Laura Lippman and John Hart were all nominated twice – and John Hart won in both years!  Connelly, Bruen, and Lippman did not receive the award either time they were nominated in the last ten years.

Of the 44 nominees, 29 (or 2/3) are American.   The other 1/3 are not.  Of these: 4 are British.  4 are Irish.  3 are Scottish.  1 is Japanese. 1 is Norwegian.  1 is Swedish. 1 is South African.

So – yay!  I’m not nuts.  This year’s MWA nominees for Best Novel are definitely skewed towards the international.

But how does a book get nominated, anyway?  The work must be submitted for consideration, and to be considered, it must have been published in the United States for the first time during the year previous (so 2012 submissions must have been published in 2011).  Publishers must have met the MWA criteria.  For Best Novel, publication must have been in hard copy. Publishers are expected to submit the works, but authors or agents may do so.

And from here, it’s a big blur.  The MWA website is weak in this regard, it appears that either how the works are judged is considered common knowledge or it is considered proprietary.  I do know that many people read the submissions and there is an ongoing process to winnow it down to the top six and then the ultimate winner.  There’s no nomination committee and then voting – it’s all done by the same people.

Here’s a blog post from last year from Bruce Hollingdrake at The Bookshop Blog.  It’s pretty helpful.

Field Gray the Final Entry in MWA Edgar Race

Are you an 80-year-old guy, like my dad?  You’ll probably love Field Gray, the 7th Bernie Gunther novel in the series by Philip Kerr.  It’s the final nominee for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar for Best Novel.  I suppose you would classify it an “historical thriller.”

This novel opens in 1954, with the much-traveled Bernie in Havana.  He’s not on the right side of the law, but nobody seems to be, including the gorgeous girl he’s been blackmailed into taking with him on a boat to Haiti.  Gorgeous Melba may be, but she also murdered a man for Castro and when they’re stopped by the U.S. Navy, its off to Guantanamo Bay for the two of them.

The set-up is just an excuse to get Bernie into the hands of the Americans, who question him closely about his past as a policeman – a real cop, who solves crimes, not a fake cop who uses his badge to commit them on the behalf of Nazis – during WW2.  It emerges that over the years, Bernie had twice saved the life of the man who is now a much-reviled East German security chief.  The CIA would love to get their hands on Erich Mielke.

Here’s a sample of the book:  It was easy to forget that we were in Germany.  There was a U.S. flag in the main hall and the kitchens — which were seemingly always in action — served plain home-cooking on the understanding that home was six thousand kilometers to the west.  Most of the voices we heard were american, too: loud, manly voices that told you to do something or not to do something – in English.  And we did it quickly, too, or we received a prod from a nightstick or a kick up the backside.  Nobody complained.  Nobody would have listened, except perhaps Father Morgenweiss.

The novel is in first person, and everything we see is through Bernie’s eyes.  The plot is terrifically wide-ranging and has the knotty twists of a John LeCarre spy thriller.  It’s packed with action, has a love story, includes real historical figures, and addresses the key sociopolitical issues of its time, while at the same time playing in the gray area between black and white, good and evil.  It’s getting great reviews.

So why didn’t I like it?  Why was reading it like doing homework?  Disclaimer:  I’m not a good historian.  The time frame – the 30s to the 50s – is not a time I lived through and while I adored Schindler’s List, the thrill of a story that was set everywhere from Cuba to New York to France to Germany to Russia is not very thrilling, in and of itself.  Field Gray is dense, very talky, and I found myself wondering as I read it just what the mystery was.  I certainly wasn’t in suspense, because I knew darn well Bernie was not going to get killed and other than that, I didn’t care about anybody else in the book.

Needless to say, Field Gray is not my fave.  Boy, will my face be red if it wins the Edgar!  But I have to call them as I see them, since the name of this game is “If Literary Lunchbox gave out Edgars…”

For the quality of the writing and in recognition that Field Gray is just not my cup of tea and so perhaps I am judging too harshly, I put it above 1222, but below The Devotion of Suspect X.  Come April, we’ll see.

  1. Gone by Mo Hayder
  2. The Ranger by Ace Atkins
  3. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
  4. Field Gray by Philip Kerr
  5. 1222 by Anne Holt

Edgar nominee Gone – the one to beat?

Faithful readers will know I flipped over Mo Hayder‘s crime novel, Gone, last year.  Enthusiasm galore documented here.  Explored the backlist, with subsequent thoughtful gushing here. So it was with great delight that I saw it was on the nomination list for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel.  And as I have been reading the other nominees, in the back of my mind has been the nagging thought that I might be predisposed to rank Gonehighest just because I “discovered” it.   This led to a great deal of reflection on the options – do I read it last so the other novels have a fair shot?  Do I read it first and get it over with?  Read it somewhere in the middle?  In the middle it is.

And I have to say, rereading it was a pleasure.  The second time around with any mystery, the pressure’s off.  You know how the plot will turn out, so the page-turning is not quite so frantic.  You can enjoy the turn of the phrase, the character interaction, the turning points in a way that you never can the first time around.  Which of course, leads me to posit that I need to re-read all the other nominated books to make an even playing field.  Bah, enough.

I won’t rehash my previous review, except to say that Gone is well-written.  The characters of Flea Marley and Jack Caffery are so real they jump off the page.  The twists and turns are smart and you don’t feel like a dummy for not guessing the bad guy, because nobody else does either.   So how does Gone stack up against the other nominees?

When it comes to plot, characterization, and reader engagement, Gone has it all over the other entries.  For voice, The Ranger may edge it out, just because Atkins’ voice is so distinctive.  Still, with only Phillip Kerr’s Field Gray left to read, it looks like Gone‘s the one to beat.  Here is the Literary Lunchbox ranking for the Edgar to date:

  1. Gone by Mo Hayder
  2. The Ranger by Ace Atkins
  3. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
  4. 1222 by Anne Holt